Elizabeth Hardwick (1916 – 2007) grew up in Kentucky, the eighth of eleven children. After graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1939, she moved to New York, where she soon began writing stories, reviews, and essays for Partisan Review. In 1963, Hardwick, her husband, the poet Robert Lowell, and a small group of friends launched The New York Review of Books, which would become a center of American intellectual debate and her literary home.
Here she is in 1986 on the essay: ‘We would not want to think of the essay as the country of old men, but it is doubtful that the slithery form, wearisomely vague and as chancy as trying to catch a fish in the open hand, can be taught. Already existing knowledge is so often required. Having had mothers and fathers and the usual miserable battering of the sense of self by life may arouse the emotional pulsations of a story or a poem; but feeling is not sufficient for the essay. Comparisons roam about it, familiarity with those who have plowed the field before, shrewdness concerning the little corner or big corner that may remain for the intrusion of one’s own thoughts. Tact and appropriateness play a part. How often we read a beginner’s review that compares a thin thing to a fat one. “John Smith, like Tolstoy, is very interested in the way men interact under the conditions of battle.” Well, no.’ // Ned Stuckey-French